BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – Dangerous arctic air has moved into Fannin County following the cold front that brought with it Winter Storm Inga.
As the day progressed roads have cleared of the icy conditions that caused treacherous travel situations throughout north Georgia.
Public Works Director Zack Ratcliff updated FetchYourNews about road conditions in Fannin County: “The main roads have cleared up, but there are still some trouble areas on them. Secondary and dirt roads are still really bad.”
“The high today was only 17 degrees, so the secondary roads got very little thaw. A lot of them have shaded areas,” Ratcliff explained.
The concern going into tonight and the early morning hours tomorrow is black ice. “All that has melted and not dried will refreeze. The temperatures will be in the low teens,” Ratcliff stated.
Fannin County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) Director Robert Graham also expressed concern over black ice forming: “More than likely overnight we will have more than a few areas where patches of black ice will form.”
Graham did want to thank the residents of Fannin County for using caution when getting out on the roadways today. “We’ve had a couple of fender benders, but that’s it. We’ve had a lot fewer 911 calls than expected in conditions like this.”
Employees of the Public Works Department will be working late into the evening to help clear roads for emergency vehicles as the need arises.
The State of Emergency declared by Georgia Governor Nathan Deal remains in effect for Thursday, Jan. 18. The State of Emergency was declared for 83 counties, including Fannin County. It states that state government offices will remain closed. This comes on a recommendation from the state Emergency Operations Command.
Deal stated, “Our top priority is to ensure the safety of Georgians and to allow the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) to continue doing its job.”
There are currently no shelters open at this time in Fannin County. If you are in need of assistance and it is not a life-threatening emergency, you can call the Fannin County Sheriff’s Office non-emergency line at 706-632-6022 or 706-632-2043. All life-threatening emergency calls should be placed to 911.
***UPDATED JAN. 17, 10:42 p.m.***
***OPENING LATE JAN. 17***
City of Blue Ridge Government Offices will open at 10 a.m.
Fannin County Government Offices will open at 10 a.m.
Fannin County Health Department will open at noon
***CLOSED JAN. 17***
Blue Ridge Mountains Arts Association (The Art Center)
Fannin County Division of Family and Children Services (DFACS)
Fannin County Magistrate Court
Fannin County Schools (12-month personnel may be asked to report later in the day)
- Blue Ridge Elementary School
- East Fannin Elementary School
- Fannin County High School
- Fannin County Middle School
- West Fannin Elementary School
***LATEST WINTER WEATHER ADVISORY***
Wind Chill Advisory until 10:00AM Thursday
…WIND CHILL ADVISORY NOW IN EFFECT UNTIL 10 AM EST THURSDAY… …WINTER WEATHER ADVISORY NOW IN EFFECT UNTIL 9 AM EST THIS MORNING…
* WHAT…Occasional light snow and very cold wind chills expected. Little or no additional accumulations are expected. Expect wind chills to range from 10 above zero to 10 below zero.
* WHERE…Fannin, Gilmer, Union, Towns, Pickens, Dawson, Lumpkin, and White Counties
* WHEN…For the Winter Weather Advisory, until 9 AM this morning. For the Wind Chill Advisory, until 10 AM Thursday.
* ADDITIONAL DETAILS…Roads will remain icy and treacherous as temperatures remain below freezing all day. If you must drive, use extreme caution. The cold wind chills may cause frostbite in as little as 30 minutes to exposed skin.
PRECAUTIONARY/PREPAREDNESS ACTIONS… A Winter Weather Advisory for snow means periods of snow will cause primarily travel difficulties. Be prepared for snow covered roads and limited visibilities, and use caution while driving. A Wind Chill Advisory means that cold air and the wind will combine to create low wind chills. Frost bite and hypothermia can occur if precautions are not taken. Make sure you wear a hat and gloves.
* AFFECTED AREAS: DAWSON … FANNIN … GILMER … LUMPKIN … PICKENS … TOWNS … UNION … WHITE
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Sunlink Inc. / Southern Health Corp. of Ellijay may soon be closing the North Georgia Medical Center located in Ellijay.
Piedmont Mountainside Hospital Inc. has made an offer for a five year lease for the Emergency Room Care area of the hospital. The two are awaiting approval from the State Department of Community Health that is due by January 28th.
In a document obtained by FetchYourNews, Piedmont has submitted a Georgia Certificate of Need, Request for Determination. In the document, Piedmont Mountainside stated:
Piedmont Mountainside Hospital, Inc. (“Piedmont Mountainside”) proposes pursuant to this Determination to acquire existing equipment and supplies, and lease approximately 11, 000 square feet of space at North Georgia Medical Center, located at 1362 South Main Street, Ellijay, GA. As a result of such acquisition and long term Lease, Piedmont Mountainside proposes to offer outpatient emergency department services at the current location of the Emergency Department (” ED”) of North Georgia Medical Center (” NGMC”). The present owner of NGMC, Southern Health Corporation of Ellijay (” SHC”)— a subsidiary of Sunlink Healthcare— intends to close North Georgia Medical Center and cease offering all short stay hospital services, including emergency services, in that facility. Such a closure will leave a troubling gap in the provision of emergency healthcare services to the rural community in Gilmer County.
This Request for Determination could be contested, but if it is not contested and is approved by the state, it is not clear when the inpatient side of the hospital will close and Piedmont Mountainside will take over the emergency room.
FYN spoke with North Georgia Medical Center Chief Executive Officer Earl Whiteley about the possible closing of the hospital. Whiteley said that although the hospital would no longer have inpatient care the positive was that the community would still have emergency care services. If a person came in the emergency room and had to be admitted, the patient would then be moved to a hospital of their choice.
Many of these patients, however, are expected to travel to Piedmont Mountainside in Pickens County. Whiteley went on to tell us that Sunlink Inc. would continue to operate the nursing home and no changes should be expected there. Additionally, the Piedmont campus on Industrial Dr will be in the lease as well and is expected to continue operation.
To further understand the impact of this to Gilmer County, FYN spoke with Executive Director Chuck Scragg of the Greater Gilmer JDA who said
The UGA study said the Hospital and nursing home has a yearly $31 million dollar economic impact to Gilmer County. We will loose very high paying jobs here, as well as other sources of revenue as people will go to Mountainside Piedmont in Jasper for hospitalization. This change will take effect unless we contest it. We only have until January 27th to do so.
Whiteley indicated in the interview that rural hospitals are ‘under the gun’ with this making six rural hospitals to close in Georgia in the last two years. Currently the hospital employs 332 employees throughout all campuses.
While FYN has not learned of any final operating days yet, we are continuing to research this project as it develops and will update you as information becomes available. You can also read, in its entirety, the Request for Determination.
When we asked about details concerning the purchase price that Piedmont was paying the hospital, Whiteley referred us to Bob Thornton of Sunlink inc. for details on the transaction. FYN has reached out to Thornton and has not heard back from him at the time of this article.
FYN has also reached out to Georgia Speaker of the House David Ralston for a comment about a hospital in his district possibly closing. FYN has also reached out to Piedmont Mountainside Hospital in Jasper for a comment concerning the transition and what citizens can expect. We currently await responses from both.
At this time, we understand the Request had also been sent to the County Commissioners and both City Mayors.